The Truth About Cars » first car The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 15:25:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » first car Sunday Story: Corrupting the Youth Sun, 02 Feb 2014 14:00:01 +0000 go_kart

“Don’t be ridiculous, young lady. You need something SENSIBLE.” Jamie sat at the kitchen table, her head in her hands. Week 5 of the search for her first car had just dawned, and she was about ready to give in.

Mother scowled as she scoured pans in the sink. This was all the fault of that wretched brother-in-law, Dan. Filling up her delicate baby girl’s head with GARBAGE, from the moment she could walk! The nerve of that grease-stained clown, spoiling her with all kinds of wretched mechanical excess! His help with Jamie was appreciated after Father’s untimely passing, but Uncle Dan’s idea of a good time made Mother pull her hair out. First it was the rides through the mud hole in that sky-high, cobbled-together death trap he casually referred to as “the Bronco.” Jamie would return home covered in dirt and giggling madly, throwing a royal tantrum when she was forced into the bath. Then, when Jamie was a little older, Uncle Dan seriously upped the ante. Dropping Jamie back off after another months-long summer vacation, he slyly hinted that her precious daughter was quite the talented racer. Mother demanded to know the context; go-carts were the answer. This, while horrifically dangerous and an enormity on many levels, was almost forgivable. She had known of other parents, devil-may-care types that would surely come to grief someday, who let their children pilot such contraptions at Magic Mountain. Then it emerged later that these go-carts were not of the rubber-covered, speed-limited variety, and that her daughter had been permitted to zip along at speeds nearing fifty miles an hour on an open track. THWUMP, went mother, as she fainted into the plush embrace of the carpet.

This emotional wallop wasn’t the last, though. Two summers ago, slimy Uncle Dan dropped Jamie off in his evil black Buick. He grinned sheepishly at Mother as Jamie bounded up the driveway, beaming. Then he drove off, the twin turbochargers hissing like snakes and the fat rear tires leaving ugly marks at the bottom of the driveway. With teenage boldness, Jamie proclaimed that she had piloted said machine down Uncle Dan’s nearby drag strip. A Youtube video was quickly produced as proof. There was Jamie, strapped into the five point harness, her helmet right-sized but fire suit comically overlarge. Mother watched that devil’s chariot vanish down the quarter mile. The signboard at the end flashed: one hundred and twenty-one miles per hour. Just a hair over eleven seconds. And the unmistakable cackle of Uncle Dan in the background. “Good girl,” he said. Mother wept her bitter tears, and vowed to reassert control.

Now was the time to lay down the hammer. Jamie had her own money, a cool forty-five hundred dollars. Those summer sessions as a helper in Uncle Dan’s hot dog truck had certainly been lucrative. It was enough cash for a gloriously ratty rolling wreck and the barest of minimum coverage. Uncle Dan could be counted on as a steady source of mechanical advice and assistance. But Mother did have the upper hand in one regard; all parking space privileges were her preserve. With no room on the street, Jamie was forced to comply. The first two of Mother’s ground rules were reasonable: disc brakes and seatbelts. Those could be found easily enough. Mother compromised on airbags, after Jamie showed her some suitably hysterical evening-news pieces on accidental deployments. But the last two rules were immovable, and hopelessly cruel: an automatic transmission, and a curb weight of at least two tons. Jamie threw an absolute fit, because she knew the aim of Mother’s game now: nip the enjoyment of driving, right in the bud. “Young lady, cars are appliances. They exist only to get you from point A to point B. I am not going to let you break your neck because you got some fool idea about driving over the speed limit in some tiny little car! You know that Uncle Dan went to jail for street racing once…” SLAM, went Jamie’s door, as she cut off the stream of unwanted advice from her parental unit. Tears wouldn’t help; what was to be done?

Flash forward, and Jamie was still struggling to eke any amount of fun out of the Sunday classifieds. Nothing but page after page of abused pickup trucks and underpowered CUVs in her price range. Jamie might have been satisfied with some used luxury, but nothing matched the price/weight combo. It was hopeless. Mother smiled; she could see the rebellious urges gradually disappearing in her daughter. Jamie lost focus, and daydreamed about trying to steer a whale onto a crowded freeway…

A ring on her phone snapped her out of it. Uncle Dan, to the rescue! He’d be by in a couple minutes. He had a lead on something Jamie would like, he said. Great! Mother was quite displeased, but she saw no way that Jamie could find something fun without breaking the rules. And if she broke the rules, there’d be no place to put her new toy. Mother let her run out the door to the waiting Buick, confident she still had the upper hand.

Within an hour, they were at the site of Uncle Dan’s promised killer deal. Jamie’s jaw dropped when the wizened old farmer pulled the tarp off the hulking shape. She and Uncle Dan busily inspected it. There was rust in the fenders, and a crack in the windshield. The paint was rather faded, and the interior smelled musty. Even so, the doors and trunk felt more solid than cars thirty years younger. The required equipment was there, thankfully: disc brakes, seatbelts, and an automatic. And the curb weight? It wasn’t even necessary to ask. Jamie opened the hood, and breathed a sigh of relief. The unobtanium power plant had long ago been ditched for a trusty Chevrolet small block. They gave it a jump, and it fired right up. She knew this car would handle like a boat, but the smile factor was well worth it. Even so, Jamie was afraid to hope. Surely, there was no way she could afford this thing! But the price was clear: four thousand dollars, and it was hers. Depreciation can be a good thing sometimes.  “What do you say?” the toothless agrarian chortled, waving a crumpled title in her face. “I’ll take it,” she grinned from behind the massive steering wheel.

Another hour later, and Jamie was back in the kitchen. She slapped her keys and the title of her new car grandly on the table. Mother strutted over primly. Her eyes boggled; this must be a joke. That title must be another one of Uncle Dan’s dastardly tricks! Jamie invited her disbelieving Mother to look out the window at the driveway. There, in all its faded glory, sat a 1978 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow II.

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Turbo Love At First Sight Thu, 28 Feb 2013 08:20:26 +0000 Photo By T Kreutzer

My 1988 Shadow on trip up Stevens Pass a few months after I purchased it.

I was young, stupid and hopelessly in love. The girl, as has so often been the case in my life, hardly knew I existed but, regardless, I was determined to win her. The problem was in those pre-internet days, real advice for young men was in short supply, especially if you were too embarrassed to ask about such things, so when someone told me women were attracted to power, I listened. If power is what women wanted, power I could get. Fortunately, it happened to be on sale at my local Dodge dealership.

The little car was take-your-breath-away gorgeous as it sat on its raised turntable in the dealership window. In the growing dusk of the February evening, the bright lights of the downtown Dodge dealer drew me and my 15 year old Nova away from the curb and towards the glass. I stood there, nose pressed against the window, like a child in an old movie taking in the Christmas display at a department store. The showroom’s lights shone down from above and struck jewel-like fire from every crease and corner of the car’s sheet metal.

Inside, the dealership smelled like stale coffee and fresh rubber, ambrosia for my lovelorn heart. The building itself was a brick, post World War II structure, and despite a fresh coat of paint and a bright red neon sign, it looked its age. Still, inside it was neat and clean and, unlike the newer flashier showrooms on the edge of town, the old building had the aura of history about it. Challengers, Chargers, Darts, Coronets, and dozens of other famous Chrysler products had graced this space and their spirits lingered. The current generation of cars were products of a newer, leaner time, but their link to that impressive history was, thanks to a clever advertisement, a tangible thing to me.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The 2.2 Shadow Turbo looked even better from inside the showroom and the sales person ushered me adeptly over, unplugged the turntable and bade me to sit in it. The little car’s charcoal gray high-backed bucket seats sat me up straight and tall and its upright cabin gave me good all around visibility. Out the windshield, with the exception of a small raised power bulge immediately in front of the driver, the hood sloped away into nothingness, its edge lost below my line of sight. The experience was new to me, and made the car seem surprisingly modern.

Inside, my overall impression was one of squareness, angles and straight edges. The gauges were set in a small pod. I found them simple and easy to read. Under my right arm a storage box rose up tall enough to use as an armrest. This was connected to a short console that held the 5 speed stick in a square rubber shift boot. Before that was another small storage compartment that opened to reveal two smallish cup holders. Above that, a black plastic center stack held the ash tray and cigarette lighter, the cassette deck, heater controls, a few idiot lights and a special gauge that measured turbo boost. It was an efficient cockpit and if not luxurious, at least it was pleasant.

Photo courtesy of

The cover and an image from a copy of same brochure I gripped with sweaty palms way back in 1988.

The 1988 Dodge Shadow came in several two and four door versions, 2.2, 2.5 and 2.2 turbo, automatic and 5 speed. There were a couple of trim levels with the top of the line being the 2.2 Turbo Shadow ES which got, among other things, a color matched grill, a small rear spoiler, and its own distinct wheels. The car I was sitting in was just what I had imagined at home when I had poured over the sales brochure. A two door coupe with all the performance goodies, the 2.2 turbo with manual 5 speed, the high-end 4 speaker AM/FM cassette and a nice looking set of aluminum wheels, nothing else. I wanted to go fast, so who needed anything more? This was a factory hot rod in the flesh and I knew then that I must own it.

A day or two later I came back to the dealership with my father and together we completed an unremarkable test drive of the non-turbo 4 door demo. When the car was deemed satisfactory, I watched in rapt silence while my dad negotiated the details that left my bank account $256.05 poorer each month but my spirit immeasurably richer. Under my watchful eye, the salesman and a couple of mechanics then rolled the bright red coupe off the turntable and took it into the shop where they conducted their final pre-delivery inspection. After what seemed like hours, the car emerged, the salesman presented me with two sets of keys and I roared off into the sunset.

Photo courtesy of

Coming and going, another shot from the brochure.

That night on the not so mean streets of Everett the little car and I went looking for trouble. The first victim was a kid in a Pontiac Fiero. His passenger made the mistake of laughing when I pulled up at a stoplight, revved the engine at him and, after an impressive front wheel drive burnout across the entire intersection, their laughter was replaced by shock as my tail lights receded into the distance. An hour or so later, a mid ’80s Camaro fell in similar fashion. The car was all I dreamed it would be. Many more adventures, many of which will eventually be written about here, followed.

In the six years I owned the little car, I racked up 140K miles. I made an epic road trip from Seattle to New York, on to DC and then home again – with the transcontinental return leg taking just three days. I also took two trips from Seattle to LA and back without stopping for anything more than gas and fast food. On those long drives the little car stormed over mountains, followed the courses of winding rivers and shot across the great plains of America, each time carrying me home in surprising comfort and without a problem.

I must confess that my Shadow was not always trouble-free. Early on I broke the core support beneath the front motor mount by doing burn offs and generally acting like a hooligan – something the car seemed to encourage. At 80K miles, I also replaced the head gasket, on my own with simple hand tools, but who thinks of things like that when you are in love? The car and I fully bonded, and together we made quite a couple.

Today I am older, a little wiser and every once in a while I even get asked for advice. Unfortunately, I still can’t tell you much about women, but I can tell you about power. If you ever need some, try the Dodge dealership. You might find the love of your young life there, I did.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Piston Slap: Permission for a Mustang, please? Mon, 17 Sep 2012 11:19:09 +0000

Robert writes:

First of all, thank you for all the fantastic articles. TTAC is one of only a few daily sites I visit that always successfully generates that “second click” to read an entire article, and unlike any of the technology sites I follow, I’m always delighted in reading and learning from the comments section that follows.

That said, are you regretting your call for articles yet? I can only imagine the volume such a request must generate. Just to add to the noise and hopefully gain some insights here’s mine:

In a few months it will become time to purchase a first car for a teenager. In suburban America, not having a car isn’t really much of an option and fife circumstances are such that borrowing the family car regularly isn’t going to work. So while I appreciate the financial benefits of holding off on a car purchase, and we’ll be talking about whether or not he really needs a car once he goes to college, the practical reality is that I’m happy to take the financial hit in order to give him the leg up on being able to get a good after school and summer job.

He’s a good kid, and when probed his wish list is pretty simple…inexpensive to maintain and drive, holds a fair bit of stuff, looks good. I add in “safe”. There’s no shortage of cars that meet those qualifications, but it’s my right as a dad to also want him to have something “cool”. So he’s not getting anything European. He’s also not getting an econo-box snooze fest because, well because I said so.

In my misspent youth, late sixties Mustang’s, Nova’s, Cougars, and GTO’s were all available for $1500. They were big, ran (sorta), were easy to work on, and looked good (ish) in primer. My natural tendency is to steer him towards modern equivalents.

Fortunately the kid has good taste. He’s equally enamored with Element’s and Mustangs. The budget of about $9000 (out the door) actually covers a lot of ground, from an ’06 Mustang v6 to an Element (even if those aren’t often cross-shopped). Most of the sporty imports I’ve seen seem to have had owners intent on thrashing the life out of them as quickly as possible, but I’m pretty open to FWD as a more winter & new-driver friendly car. What say you? Mustang? Element? Escape?

Okay, yes…I want permission to get the kid a Mustang.

Thanks kindly!

Sajeev answers:

You want my permission?  This is The Truth About Cars: I’m gonna fight you just because…but with some valid counterpoints!

I don’t really care how good a kid is! Getting a car (in just about any condition) is adequate payment for not being a PITA.  Course, I was lucky that the most readily available ride for me was indeed cool (’65 Galaxie LTD Hardtop, Proto Panther Love FTW),  but I didn’t need or deserve that icing on the cake.

I only had that car for a year, as my parents wanted me in a safer car.  Ya know, because 3-pt belts and a collapsible steering column isn’t a bad idea in the mid-1990s. My point? Just because you want your kid to have something nice doesn’t mean he deserves it. Or can appreciate it.

He deserves an honest machine that won’t cost much to insure and doesn’t encourage accidents. The dirty little secret:  any car is cool, the aftermarket and Internet Message Forums make a nerdy car into a sleeper.  Or a mediocre car into an easily scalable performance machine.

  • Why spend the insurance money on a Mustang?
  • Why increase the risk of him–even if he did nothing wrong–injuring others who might want to sue your pants off?

Get a boring sedan with some potential.  A 2000-2006 Taurus (quick as a Duratec, safely slow as a Vulcan V6) with readily available hop-up parts from the 1989-1999 Taurus SHO. Or a W-body General Motors sedan with the same parts potential.  Or Honda Accord, but not that insurance nightmare(?) known as the Civic Coupe. Or the “it’s already damn near sorted” Mazda 6.  These cars are cheap to buy, cheap to own, very easy to respect.  And possibly even love.

And if your son hates you for getting him something not nearly as cool as the vehicles of your youth, well, I guess I didn’t appreciate my first cool car nearly enough. So what the heck do I know? Off to you, Best and Brightest.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.


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Time To Say Goodbye Tue, 17 Apr 2012 13:38:59 +0000

Derek Kreindler is pondering selling his lovely BRG Miata and using the funds as “a down payment on a home of my own.” *Sigh.* Here on the West Coast of Canada, I’d have had to sell my (imaginary) Aventador to pull off the same trick. Spend half-a-million bucks: get half-a-bunkbed in some split-level commune. Pot to piss in, not included.

But that’s not his point, it’s whether or not to let the First One go. The first car you paid for with your own money. That first taste of wheeled freedom. Be it ever so humble, you’ll never walk away from your first without a twinge of regret and many backwards glances.

I remember when I did it.

Funnily enough, my first was also a Mazda product: an ’88 Mazda MX-6 GT. It couldn’t have been more different than the Miata though: wrong-wheel drive, muscle-car weight distribution, styling by Sir Arthur Doorstop. Kissing cousin to one of the worst-named cars ever, the Ford Probe, the MX-6 was a touring coupe in the manner of the Integra or the Celica, but floppier than either. Most were automatic: think Toyota Solara designed by someone who only had a ruler.

I too withdrew what was – to me – a large sum of money in a non-descript envelope and nervously got on public transit. The trip took me far from the ivory towers of my University campus, deep into the East Side of Vancouver. Those days, it was a place of fringe-thinkers and alternative living, public parks full of discarded hypodermics and the air redolent with mary-jane.

Nowadays, condos starting at $865,000. 50% sold. DON’T MISS OUT.

And there she was. Red. Stick-shift. No damn sunrooof. A enormous bright pink “PRINCESS” sticker on the back window like a tramp-stamp, which was the style at the time. Love at first sight? Nope, love at first drive.

The ’6′s front tires were balder than Billy Corgan; some mass-market generic brand that has since collapsed into obscurity. When I shifted into second and walked on it, used to the heavy-footedness required to get the family Land Rover up to speed, the MX stuck its nose in the air and said, “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!”, laying a patch for half a block. SOLD.

When I think back on it, perhaps not my best negotiation. Had it ever been in any accidents? “Uh, not sure.” Well, it clearly had. The spoiler had a giant dent in it and there was some bondo’ing under the rear passenger-side tail-light that looked like 3rd-grader papier-mache. I think I offered $100 less than ask and the seller grasped for my hand like I was throwing him a life-ring (the Princess thing: it was his girlfriend’s car). Oh well, done deal.

Whatever condition it might have been in, the MX was tougher than nails. JDM and EUDM models got a lovely 16-valve 2.0L engine called the FE3 or FE-DOHC that is even now quite desirable as a swap. If you’re interested Derek, you can make it fit into a Miata with an FC RX-7 transmission.

In North America, we got a truck motor: the iron-block 2.2L 12v engine out of the B2200. As the late-80s/early-90s were the era of GT-means-turbo, the engineers hung a teeny-tiny snail off the exhaust manifold and called it a day. It made about 6.5lbs of boost and gave you about 145hp. It also might just be the torque-steerin’-est car ever made, as the restrictive head meant you had 190lb/ft of surgetastic torque on tap any time you tried to pass. A ‘Speed3 is an absolute pussycat by comparison.

Around about this time, the increasing prevalence of automotive forums meant that you could get advice – mostly bad – on how to modify your car. Unfortunately, the MX-6 had all the aftermarket support of a Goggomobil. I bought the very last short-throw shifter in Western Canada: it had been sitting on a shelf so long that the box was partially decomposed. Maybe Jesus built your hot rod; I bought most of my parts from Methusela.

Luckily, the lack of readily available go-fast goodies meant that the few MX-6 loving lunatics out there were oracles of barn-door ingenuity and do-it-yourself low-budgetry. I had access to my Dad’s tools, and a Ph.D in automotive cursing. LET’S DO THIS.

And boom goes the dynamite.

Taking this picture was a monumentally bad idea. Guesstimating from the dyno results of similarly-modified cars, the ’6 was making about 280 lb/ft of torque at 3500 rpm, with no limited-slip diff, nor equal-length half-shafts, or electronic trickery, nor even particularly accurate steering. I absolutely loved it.

There was nothing like the 1-2 shift in this quick-spooling front-driver to put a grin on your face. Every time you’d get bark and scrabble, wrestle with the steering and then a surge as everything around you went backwards. It was red. I was twenty-something. I believe the local constabulary were able to open a library wing with my, um, donations.

14.2 in the quarter, but it wasn’t just that it was quick, it was mine. I broke it, then I fixed it. I installed the rocker arms upside-down (don’t ask), drove it a couple hundred miles, and then figured out my mistake. No problem. Stripped second gear and blew a headgasket: bought a parts car for $200, took what I needed and sold the leftovers for $300. Some lady backed across three lanes of traffic and whacked into the quarter-panel. Settled privately and spend the money on an mandrel-bent turboback instead.

The MX-6 was like a faithful retriever, soaking up all the abuse as I pulled at its ears and poked its snout. It’d let me down from time to time, but not unless I’d done something stupid like forget to re-clamp the intercooler hoses.

But then it was time. I knew. I’d met this girl and things were – happening. At the 1/8th mile drags a buddy had simply smoked me with his WRX wagon and I’d always wanted one of those. Maybe in a little while…

She went to Australia for an elective, me to follow in three weeks. I put the MX-6 up for sale and only one guy showed. I took him around the car pointing out the dents and dings, the drip from the tranny, the tick that meant one of the hydraulic lashers was going. He looked non-plussed. “Well, maybe take me for a spin. You drive.” I hit second hard. He didn’t ask for a single dollar off.

I took the cash, pretty much what I’d paid, rode my bike down to a Jeweller’s and paid for the engagement ring I’d picked out weeks ago. Obviously it took a bit more than an old Mazda to cover things, but it was a symbolic gesture. My most prized possession, now in another form, to be given away as a promise.

I miss this car a lot. I wonder if she’s still out there somewhere, though I doubt it. But I don’t have a single regret about letting her go. Sometimes, you just need to know when to hold them, and when to walk away.

Goddam Kenny Rogers.

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It’s Not Just A Car – It’s My First Car Mon, 16 Apr 2012 13:00:30 +0000

It’s just a car. That’s what I keep telling myself. It’s my first car. A 1997 Mazda Miata. British Racing Green with tan leather. A rip in one of the seats. Torsen LSD, Bilstein coilovers, a roll bar. Needs a new 02 sensor. Otherwise in great condition. In the last year, it’s needed a new alternator, new brakes. Body is good, paint is only so-so. Someone made me an offer I’d be stupid to refuse. I am usually responsible with my finances. No debt to my name. Rarely carry a balance on my credit card. Roughly a quarter of each paycheque goes into a dedicated savings account. I’d be an idiot not to sell it. My self-control is failing me.

It’s just a car.

That money, plus the money I’ve set aside in savings from my meager auto journalists salary will give me enough for a down payment on a home of my own. No more renting. A chance to get in to Toronto’s booming real estate market before I get priced out by foreign investors buying “escape pods” to flee instability at home. A chance to buy a great place when the market inevitably corrects itself.

It’s just a car.

I can buy an old E30. Or a new(er) Outback. Go rallycrossing, slide around in the dirt, not give a shit where I park it and if it gets dinged. A car I am not afraid to drive in winter. A car I can drive comfortably on the highway. No more buzzing at 4000 RPM. No more getting nearly run off the road by big rigs. “An Outback?” asks my Dad’s friend. “Why? This is a perfect time to own a two-seater.”

It’s just a car.

But it’s my car. My first car. In high school, I decided I wanted a Miata. Cheap, rear-drive, a rag top. A Lotus Elan for someone who can’t turn a wrench. I worked at a game booth at the city fair. I was a carny, for god’s sake. I worked on the loading dock of a store that sold camping supplies, hauling boxes off of a truck on 95 degree days, dodging hoards of rich housewives trying to grab shitty Made In China trinkets for their kids, moving the merchandise up steep flights of stairs for $8.75 an hour. I had a Miata to pay for.

It’s just a car I bought myself, and kept running myself. No help from anyone else.

I started looking in February ’09, and only found a good one in April. The exact one I wanted, with all the options. I withdrew my life savings in $100 bills and ran home from the bank, afraid of getting robbed for the small brown envelope I stuffed in my front pocket. My hand shook when I signed my name on the title. After taxes, registration fees and an oil change I had less than $100 dollars left. I drank Olde English – or nothing at all for the rest of the summer. I didn’t care.

It’s just an old Mazda. 202,000 km on the clock. They made nearly a million of them.

597 Miatas were sent to Canada in 1997. Most of the early ones like mine have been ravaged by rust and neglect. My friends called it a girls car. It’s not. To prove them wrong I took off-ramps at double the posted limit, watched their knuckles go white with terror as the Miata begged for more.  Girls called it cute, and I did the exact same thing, but hoping for more. Every time I hit the middle of third gear, they would all throw their arms in the air and cry out. Once, I finally worked up the courage to hold my crush’s hand, and I looked into her eyes as I slotted the shifter into the next gear. All of a sudden, a gasp from her. I slammed on the brakes just early enough to avoid slamming into the back of a brand new, Brilliant Red S4.

It’s just a car.

The same girl’s house, a year later. She is newly single, I am dating around. Lately, there is undeniable tension between us. I’m driving a bright red 2011 Shelby GT500. Zeppelin blaring. Heel toe downshift as I pull up to her lawn. I am so fucking cool. She’s waiting, long-legged, rosy-cheeked and radiant in a clingy summer dress – wearing a frown. “Ew,” she pouts. “This is so tacky. Where’s the Miata?”

It’s just a car.

I am in denial that this car is a part of my identity. My self-image is not tied to it. But it has become a part of me. Neighbors, friends and relatives ask where it is when they drive by my house. Half the time it sits in a lonely lot while I’m driving a press car. In winter it barely moves, save for a fresh snowfall, when I know there’s no salt on the road. When it’s cold out, the doors nearly freeze shut, and getting them pried open requires a gentle tug that is equal parts finesse and brute strength. The thin sheetmetal and leather interior makes the car absolutely freezing, and with a parka on, there’s little room to maneuver. It is truly miserable to drive a Miata in winter. Until you dip into the gas just a bit too much and suddenly, a quarter turn of opposite lock is required to bring the car back in to line.

It’s just a car.

“Man, this must be ill for hollering at girls.” I tell my friend that I’m hesitant to take my car out, since the car is having trouble starting. But it’s a clear, cool night and Queen St West is full of women in short skirts and high heels. My friend yells at anything with two legs and two X chromosomes, without success. I pull back in to the parking spot, and just out of curiosity, try to start the car again. It’s dead. I almost kill myself trying to reach the trunk mounted battery with the jumper cables. The car gets towed twice. My friend is now a major recording artist who just played at Coachella. He still doesn’t have his license.

It’s just a car.

And there are so many other cars I want to own. An Audi urS4. A Lotus Elise. An air-cooled 911. A GMC Typhoon. A black on black 1991 NSX – to me, the pinnacle of the automobile and an equally nostalgic part of my childhood. Even the current NC Miata. It’s so much better than my car could ever be. I want to own them all. I want my Miata too.

It’s just a car.

I worry that I will forever regret selling the Miata. I tell myself that it’s a lousy highway car, unsafe in a crash, liable to be run off the road by an 18-wheeler, only capable of carrying two, with a small trunk, gutless and underpowered, a chassis too sloppy to be rewarding on the track, profligate with fuel for such a small engine, useless for half the year, uncomfortable with the top down on a sunny day as the sun beats down on my scalp and my back sticks to the poorly designed leather seat, lousy on long drives.

It’s just a car.

But it’s also a vessel for so many memories. Sneaking out at 2 A.M. to go across town to a girls house. Driving home from a cottage with the roof down, far away from the smog of the city. Looking up and realizing I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen any stars. Shaking off feelings of apprehension and malaise with a girl I loved (but not like that), driving to a hidden spot by the lake with a view of the skyline, and having it all melt away. My Blackberry buzzing in the cupholder with an email from an old neighbor who moved to California. I pull over on a busy arterial road to read it. I thought he was long dead but he’s 93 years old and doing quite well, thank you very much. My first track day. My second track day where I spun for the first time. The roof was down and as I put all four wheels off, grass and dirt flew in to the cabin, landing all over my lap. Screams, laughter, joy, terror, endless parking receipts that trace my movements over the last three years.

It’s not just a car.

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New or Used: More Cash or More Cool for School? Mon, 12 Dec 2011 19:31:53 +0000

Mackenzie writes:

Hello, my name is Mackenzie. I am a 16 year old girl looking to buy her first car. I am looking at Jeep Cherokees (NOT Grand Cherokees). I am trying to find a decent manual transmission one, but I can’t seem to locate any within a reasonable distance from me (Eastern Virginia). My dad says I should look for a 1999-2001 Cherokee, but the few that I have found that are stick shift usually have pretty high mileage or are out of my budget. As car experts, would you guys recommend an older (94-98ish) Cherokee or a newer one with higher mileage? I keep hearing that American-made cars are not as hardy as foreign-made cars, and that over 180,000 miles for a Cherokee is a no-go. My parents have agreed to pay half of the car, but with what I am finding, it’s still going to be a lot of money to pay. At first I was looking at $3500 tops, but I’m thinking I will have to raise that. Any help or advice yall have on this subject would be greatly appreciated.


Sajeev Answers (via Email):

Mackenzie, thank you for writing. I know you want a Cherokee and they are pretty cool, but they are a terrible choice for your money (gas, insurance, other things). A boring little compact car is your best choice, you will have more money for other things, and will be better off in the future. If that sounds good to you, what smaller car would you be interested in?

Mackenzie writes back:

Sajeev, you really think it would be a bad idea to get a Cherokee? My older brother got a 1970 Volkswagen camper van for his first car-that was definitely not a good investment, although it is pretty cool. We also have a ’92 Honda Accord, but it has 296,000 miles on it. If not a Jeep Cherokee, I’m not quite sure what I want to get. I know I definitely want a stick-shift car, and I would really like something with room in it-I am in high school and I am always going to sports practices and transporting other kids around. Any advice you have would (again) be helpful.


Sajeev Answers:
Consider these three things.

  1. Jeeps are more desirable at this age (like every truck) so they cost more to buy than a sedan of the same age/mileage. Which means you
    get a worse vehicle in terms of reliability and upkeep.
  2. They are more expensive to insure. Call around and compare a Corolla to a Jeep.
  3. They guzzle gas, and that’s not cheap right now.

Do NOT raise your budget. Find a sedan in that price range. I was a drummer in high school and I carried plenty of gear and bandmates in it, the Cherokee has a pretty terrible back seat for carrying anything, too. I know you want a Jeep, but you need to get one later, when you have more money.

Steve concludes:

Mackenzie, I would do two things.

  1. Pool your money a bit. If you have the patience, you’ll likely get a compact SUV that is far better at the $5000 to $7000 level.
  2. Broaden the pool a bit. Cherokees became a bit difficult to get as five-speeds as time went on. Personally, I would opt more towards a five-speed Escape. You get a more modern powertrain along with far better fuel economy and less of a price premium.

I have a 95′ Cherokee on my lot right now that has 269k and is still picture perfect. But if I were 16 again and shopping for that big college car, I would want something that I don’t have to think about as much. Go with an Escape.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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Piston Slap: For the Next Stage in Life Wed, 06 Jul 2011 20:10:37 +0000


Mackenzie writes:

Hello, I am a 16-year-old girl looking to buy her first car. I am looking at Jeep Cherokees (NOT Grand Cherokees). I am trying to find a decent manual transmission one, but I can’t seem to locate any within a reasonable distance from me (Eastern Virginia).

My dad says I should look for a 1999-2001 Cherokee, but the few that I have found that are stick shift usually have pretty high mileage or are out of my budget. As car experts, would you guys recommend an older (94-98ish) Cherokee or a newer one with higher mileage?

I keep hearing that American-made cars are not as hardy as foreign-made cars, and that over 180,000 miles for a Cherokee is a no-go. My parents have agreed to pay half of the car, but with what I am finding, it’s still going to be a lot of money to pay. At first I was looking at $3500 tops, but I’m thinking I will have to raise that. Any help or advice y’all have on this subject would be greatly appreciated.

Sajeev answers:

I know you want a Cherokee and they are pretty cool, but they are a terrible choice for a 16 year old. And not because Jeeps are junk and American cars aren’t has durable as foreign cars. As if. It’s the wrong move for things we haven’t discussed: gas cost, insurance rates and safety.

Let’s be real: teenagers will explore the limits of their driving skills. And I’d prefer you (or a friend who borrows your ride) keep the shiny side up. The Cherokee’s design dates back to the 1980s, so they aren’t especially great compared to modern car and trucks in a crash. And blaming it on old age alone is me being generous to the Cherokee. Perhaps its because of Federal regulations at the time, but trucks had little of the common sense safety engineering of cars from that era.

A boring little car is your best choice, you will have more money for other things, and will be better off in the future. If that sounds good to you, what car would you be interested in?

Find one of those in your price range. Make sure it has some service history or a host of new parts to ensure it hasn’t had a neglected, rough life. This is a better move for you, odds are you will have more money for other things in the future if you take my advice. And, believe it or not, that’s what you will want when you use that vehicle to move to the next stage of your life.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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